On 25 March 2021, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee published its Sixth Report of Session 2019–21, The future of public service broadcasting (HC 156). The Government’s response was received via correspondence on 26 May 2021. The Government’s response is appended below.
The Government welcomes the publication of the Committee’s report and is grateful for the Committee’s comprehensive inquiry into ‘The Future of Public Service Broadcasting’.
The Government wholeheartedly agrees with the Committee’s assessment that the need for public service broadcasting remains as strong as ever. At a time when we are witnessing seismic shifts in the way people are discovering and viewing audiovisual content, the ability of our public service broadcasters (PSBs) to make programmes that appeal to the breadth of the UK population and unite audiences across generations remains undisputed. What is more, the PSBs have demonstrated their unique value to the UK during the coronavirus pandemic, finding new and innovative ways to bring relevant British content to audiences across the country and providing vital assistance of educational programmes for children learning from home. The Government also agrees with the Committee that the pandemic has reinforced the critical importance of free and easy access to trusted news provided by PSBs, both in terms of disseminating essential information and tackling disinformation and misinformation. The latter point remains a priority for this Government, as set out in previous responses to the Committee.
During the pandemic, the Government has worked to support the broadcasting sector, including our public service broadcasters. In addition to supporting individuals across the economy through financial packages such as the job retention scheme and the self-employed income support scheme, the £500 million Film and TV Production Restart Scheme has given productions the confidence to keep shooting. To date, 437 production companies are using the scheme, representing over £1.4 billion of production budgets and over 41,000 jobs supported, a significant proportion of which is programming made, or commissioned, by PSBs. The Government has also worked with industry to produce guidance to support the effective assessment and management of COVID-19 risk in workplaces such as TV production.
Looking ahead to the challenges of tomorrow, the Government is supportive of a modern system of public service broadcasting that is dynamic, relevant and can continue to meet the needs of UK audiences in the future. As such the Government is currently conducting its own review of public service broadcasting, and as part of this process has formed a PSB Advisory Panel to provide independent expertise and advice on this important issue. At the same time Ofcom are also in the middle of Small Screen Big Debate, its latest periodic review of public service broadcasting and the Government looks forward to receiving their recommendations in the summer. The Government will look to bring together the work of these reviews, as well as the Committee’s own findings, and will set out its position and next steps for this work later this year. The Government remains committed to legislating to implement Ofcom’s recommendations on prominence, and as we conclude our strategic review we will consider whether further legislation is necessary.
The last half a decade has been transformative in terms of the range of services available to UK viewers, characterised by a profound shift in viewing from linear to on-demand, and the entrance of new global players into the UK market. The evolution of the broadcasting market continues apace and it is important that we look at all the options for ensuring a successful and sustainable future for UK public service broadcasting, including how we build on the huge contributions the PSBs have made, the future role of Channel 4, and what the appropriate model is for the system as a whole going forward.
Since the Committee’s report was published, the BBC has published the Rt Hon Lord Dyson’s independent investigation into the circumstances around the 1995 Panorama interview with Diana, Princess of Wales. The Committee has also announced a hearing which will consider the report. It is the Government’s belief that the BBC must act fast to restore trust, and reassure the country that it will shine a light on any other areas falling short of the high standards we rightly expect from it. The BBC needs to improve its culture to ensure this never happens again and that means a new emphasis on accuracy, impartiality and diversity of opinion. The Government notes that the BBC can occasionally succumb to a ‘we know best’ attitude that is detached both from criticism and the values of all parts of the nation that it serves and believes cultural change must be a focus for the Director-General and new Chair on the back of the Dyson report. We will use the mid-term Charter review to determine whether the governance and regulatory arrangements should be strengthened.
The Government’s response to the Committee’s recommendations is below. The response covers recommendations addressed directly to the Government.
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